When you get a new album by a band you really like, it’s an exciting time – expectations are always high. That’s how I felt when I sat down to listen to Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance by Belle & Sebastian. Although I was pretty late to the party with these guys, I’ve been a big fan for a few years now and thought I knew what to expect. And, on first listen, this really wasn’t it. So I held off writing this and re-listened. Then I held off a bit more. And listened again. After a good few listens, I think I’m now ready to write this.
It starts off great. ‘Nobody’s Empire’, a song that chronicles singer Stuart Murdoch’s battle with chronic fatigue syndrome is pure Belle & Sebastian by numbers, as is the next track, ‘Allie’. This is no bad thing. Belle & Sebastian have a sound, in the same way Teenage Fanclub have their jangly guitars and Franz Ferdinand have their angular riffs, the Glasgow six-piece have come off the Glasgow art-school scene and cornered the market in sensitive, delicate indie-pop that touches the shy and disaffected in a way The Smiths did.
They do this once again with the beautiful ‘The Cat With the Cream’. They then keep this feel at other points throughout the album. ‘Ever Had a Little Faith?’ is gorgeous and album closer, ‘Today (This Army’s for Peace)’, ebbs and flows beautifully. Haunting and delicate, it’s a perfect reminder of what it is that I truly love about this band.
It’s on songs like ‘The Party Line’ and ‘Enter Sylvia Plath that the paint starts to run. Do I really want to hear Belle & Sebastian go Eurodisco? Well, three weeks ago it was a resounding no. But the more I listen, the more I think actually maybe I do. It’s different to what we’ve heard before from them. But after a few listens, once you’re over the shock, you realise your foot is tapping. Maybe we don’t want another Dear Catastrophe Waitress. Perhaps what we really want is Belle & Sebastian in the Eurovision Song Contest!
And the surprises don’t end there. ‘The Everlasting Muse’ is a polka whilst ‘Perfect Couples’ is an interesting blend of funk and calypso. The 7 and a half minutes of ‘Play For Today’ is probably the most successful marriage of the old and the new. It showcases Murdoch’s vocals and lyrics over a simplistic almost rave beat and synth line. He shares vocal duties here with Dee Dee Penny of the Dum Dum Girls and her voice is utterly sublime. With keyboard player Sarah Martin taking over vocals on ‘The Book of You’, you get a sense that, yes, it’s Belle & Sebastian, but with a chunkier, bordering on rock sound.
This is an intriguing album, and is as experimental as I’ve ever heard the band. I think taking these new songs to a live audience will really bring a new dynamic to their shows. It has taken several listens to get over my initial misgivings, but I’m really glad I persevered.
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